Inspiring Caring Leaders Across Cultures  

Education Exchange Excellence with “Lintegration”


Published Date : Feb 23, 2018

Porntip Kanjananiyot
Chotima Chaitiamwong
Thailand-United States Educational Foundation
(TUSEF/Fulbright Thailand)

 

Abstract

Having been involved in Thai education for more than six decades as a stakeholder and an observer, Fulbright Thailand has witnessed numerous endeavors in the development of education at national, organizational and individual levels. Many efforts are innovative and praiseworthy yet they are often scattered all over. As a stakeholder, we experience the unconnected dots that make education exchanges much less profitable or effective when it could otherwise highly generate benefits to worth the while of the invested resources, energy, and the education system itself. As an observer, we see the fragmentations of sound policies and practices across the education realm, resulting in the loss of synergy to move toward our shared vision to enhance the quality of learners for healthy and contributive survival in the complex 21st Century. From both perspectives, we conclude that the common challenges in education management in Thailand reflect our weaknesses in ‘linking the dots’ and integrating the concept of links into our working system. In other words, we are calling for more ‘lintegration’ in our education system to heighten the quality of learners and stakeholders.

This paper focuses on education exchange programs as a case study on lintegration. Experiences and lessons shared could hopefully be applied to other missions of education institutions as well as other kinds of organizations.

 

Higher Education under Pressure!

The world is scarily more complicated as life is becoming much more demanding and gaps between peoples are widening. Increased pressure is then put on higher education institutions, the last formal incubator of today’s and tomorrow’s citizens. Obviously, every single institution shares the same ultimate goal in producing quality graduates by reaching and upholding the international standard.

In this decade, the internationalization process in Thailand has involved a number of key issues. The term ‘ASEAN’ has become a cliché across the Thai education realm. Positively, it reemphasizes the importance of ‘English language learning’ in the country although the consequences are quite a mess with problems in human resources development, mushrooming of the so-called international programs, mismatched budget allocations, etc.

Along with the English language is the ‘constantly developed technology’, which seems to be quickly embraced by all sectors. Technology not only provides the most advanced and effective tools for teaching and learning but also responds to the nature of students, particularly the ‘M Generation’, whose characters and needs differ from those who designed curriculums. Technology and the new generation of students call for different education deliveries and managements. Thus, the use of technology is not simply the procurement of the tools. Rather, it goes beyond the ‘know-how’ to ‘do-how’ so as to be capable, delivering the right content to the right target groups of learners.

‘Quality’ remains the most challenging issue, pressuring higher education institutions by law and also by social expectations. Amid the intense competition, each institution is challenged to weigh between qualitative and quantitative education delivery while finding a good balance between teaching, research, and service. Along with the struggle towards the internationally accepted quality, it is necessary that each individual institution maintain its own ‘identity’, which is very much relevant to the preservation of local culture (institutionally, regionally, and nationally) so that it will not be just another fish in the pond.

These are only examples of the pressures that higher education institutions are going through. On the positive side, they are pushed for constant development. On the dark side, these pressures are the source of their frustration and, worse, distraction from their vision, core missions, and most important of all, the reasons for their existence.

 

Focus on the End – Globally Competent Citizens

Let’s set aside all the pressures for a while. What really matters is actually the expected output of higher education institutions – the capable graduates or more precisely, the globally competent citizens. Needless to say, the meaning of “global” has already covered ASEAN as it is indeed a subset of the international community.

The question then is how to nurture such graduates. The detailed answers could vary, depending on institutional nature, specializations, and strengths but the essences are indeed similar to what John Shattuck, President and Rector of the Central European University, has summarized. He concluded that “the most effective way to produce globally competent citizens is to teach critical thinking – to teach students how to think for themselves, how to value and evaluate facts and how to analyze complex problems. We must teach tolerance of other points of views and of other cultures, while at the same time strengthening the sense of one’s own roots and background, so that students can be self-confident citizens in a global context.”

Interestingly, these qualifications are not the core subjects traditionally taught. Rather, they are ‘life skills’ that cut across disciplines and based heavily on critical thinking and cross cultural skills . The need for life skills reflects more complicated world in which individuals can no longer live in their same old “Sabai Box” . They must learn to open up their mind, reevaluate their thinking, and adjust their “Sabai Boxes” amid the rapid changing environments and when they are in different settings.

Of course, technology and English remain crucial as learning tools. While technology offers fast and fun choices for effective learning, English introduces students to different knowledge, thinking, and cultures. Both technology and English help connect students to the wider world.

By stressing the importance of English as a learning tool, we can do more and definitely beyond some misleading concepts regarding the so-called international programs or English programs, which pay far too much attention to the medium of instruction than the content.

English in itself is still the must-know language for globally competent citizens. In fact, English alone might not be enough. Even in the U.S., elementary students are now encouraged to learn such foreign languages as French, Spanish, and Chinese because monolingualism, according to a language-immersion specialist with the Utah state office of education Gregg Roberts,” is the illiteracy of the 21st century” . It is noteworthy that the selected foreign languages are also the languages for businesses. Monolinguaglism in this sense then implies English plus one of the world’s major languages.

Pressure-driven policies might be inevitable but, at least, they should be linked back to the end product – the globally competent citizens with both skills and willingness to further develop and apply such skills wherever they will be, within or beyond the nation, and obviously within or beyond the ASEAN Region.

 

Cheers to Exchange Programs!

Undeniably, education exchange is one of the most effective mechanisms to foster globally competent citizens with direct experiences for their life skills. Some might argue that people nowadays are now already travelling all over the world. Nonetheless, a mere overseas trip is not enough to bear cross-cultural learning effects.

A person needs to live there for a certain period of time so that he/she could absorb the differences with critical thinking for thorough cross-cultural understanding and self awareness. Education exchanges therefore open up excellent opportunities for individuals to ‘see the world as others do, and to allow for a possibility that others may see something that we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately’ . By ’shrinking or reshaping their “Sabai Box”/comfort zones, people could see the same world from different angles, tap into wisdom of other cultures, and think more compassionately, more dimensionally, and more creatively.

 

Mirror! Mirror!

Not surprisingly, the exchange programs are deemed as one of the key activities for higher education internationalization. Here in Thailand, there are MOUs on exchanges established almost at all levels from university down to individual departments. The degree of institutional internationalization somehow seems to correlate with the number of MOUs and headcounts of the foreign students as they help strengthen the ‘international atmosphere’ of the campus. For quality education, world-class facilities and many other supports have been established, not to mention the mushrooming of international programs.

But what are the exchange programs really for?

Reconsidering the objectives of education exchange, we wish to foster critical and creative thinking skills as well as cross-cultural skills among our students and staff.

Reconsidering the objectives of internationalization, we are striving to nurture globally competent citizens.

Then, what is missing?

As earlier mentioned, higher education institutions tend to focus heavily on the concrete, and readily measurable elements of internationalization such as foreign students, facilities, and international programs – something commonly seen in a QA check-list. Much less attention is paid on personal and organizational learning out of the exchange itself – something difficult to measure but is the key to their internationalization efforts to produce desirable Thai graduates to proudly stand out as globally competent citizens.

What can be done to bring the bits and pieces of exchange programs back on track?

 

Lessons from “The BTS- AIRPORT LINK Model”?!?

Let us switch to something else for a while. For Bangkokians who have been frustrated with the legendary traffic, BTS Skytrain is a great relief. It became a hit and the lines are extended to connect as many congested areas as possible, including the Suvarnabhumi Airport. Yet, the Bangkok traffic is still notorious. What has gone wrong?

When the Airport Link started later, it is managed by another agency. Obviously, it has had a few key challenges to tackle. Being newer, it could have made the system friendlier. In any case, it was fortunate that the connection of the AIRPORT LINK and the BTS systems has made the commute more convenient. Despite the link, passengers have to find their own ways to commute to and from those two systems and from one airport to the other. Clearly, BTS-AIRPORT LINK is not effectively linked to other services, far from being integrated with the overall mass transportation system of Bangkok, and far from responding to the real needs of the passengers they plan to serve.

 

Link and Integration – The Missing Ingredients

Similarly, a number of exchange programs have been established here and there in the Thai education system in order to create relations with the international community. Internally, however, very few are connected to each other. Without links among education exchange programs, the efforts could be lost with no clear directions, waste of resources, and minimal impacts. Besides, institutions/faculties/departments could lose opportunities to expand and/or enrich the exchange programs across disciplines, to network with trans-disciplinary experts/potential partners, to gain more from available international resources, etc.

Fulbright Thailand has been encouraging links between American Fulbright scholars and other institutions within our network in addition to their current hosts. Though our efforts are not always a success, we continue to convince our partner institutions to connect with those in similar programs or specializations and with those across various disciplines. As education is moving towards trans-disciplinary learning, one exchange scholar could have a great deal to share with more than one faculty provided that a chance is given and learning is fed back to the whole system.

Diagram 1: Education Institution from the Macro Picture

Looking from the macro picture, an institution, at its core, is driving towards internationalization with multiple cultures. This mission concerns a number of interwoven matters. While being responsive to global movements and changes which call for specific skills, education institutions must have thorough understanding on its own cultures and contexts so that they can respond appropriately to the world’s development. Also, it is tasked to smoothly bridge the gap between basic and higher education, strengthen the accumulated
skills and foster the needed ones. At the same time, staffs and students, both domestic and foreign, must be engaged in their institutions’ core missions with a good cross-generation management.

With an understanding of this picture, each institution will have a framework for their execution of education exchange programs. Relevant activities such as recruitment and orientation can be organized on this understanding, making exchange programs a self-reflective and self-development process with lessons learned and knowledge that could be shared institution-wide.

 

Fulbright Thailand’s Cobweb of Integration

As our core function is grant administration, Fulbright Thailand serves as a facilitator of education exchanges and seems not to directly learn from them. In fact, many have thought of us as a mere travel agency. In reality, however, we do much more than handling the grants thanks to our lintegration principle.

Currently, Fulbright Thailand administers 15 grants with some 90 Thai and American grantees each year. The grants are of various natures and criteria, which could seem to be totally alienated to one another. However, there are always hidden links among them and we have managed to find some. These links could be drawn within institutional and individual frameworks.

Within the institutional framework, each exchange scholar and student could serve as our connecting point between host and home institutions. For example, a Thai visiting scholar could help encourage their students to apply for Junior Research Scholarship Program (for Ph.D. students), for Open Competition Scholarship Program (for master’s degree), and for Global Undergraduate Student Exchange Program (for undergraduate students) at their host institutions under the supervision of their Fulbright colleagues. Likewise, American scholars could help promote exchange opportunities to their colleagues and students at their Thai hosts or even the hosts’ partner institutions.

Diagram 2: Links within institutional framework

At an individual level, one exchange program could be linked to many other opportunities. American scholars are encouraged to network with other Thai institutions in addition to their hosts as well as grantees under different Fulbright grant programs through volunteering and outreach activities. Then, they could expand their networks of professionals, friendship, and cooperation. The scholars are also encouraged to apply for travel grants to give lectures within their regions so that they could do more with their Fulbright projects.

Diagram 3: Links within individual framework

Obviously, links mostly start from and are based on personal contacts. In administering grant programs, we therefore try to combine together similar activities such as program orientation and seminars as they provide good opportunities to link grantees (and alumni) from different programs and even from both countries. Then, they can share with each other available opportunities and possibilities. These are supported by outreach activities, which engage cross-program and cross-discipline grantees/alumni as well as our staffs in sharing knowledge and experiences and learning from each other.

One of our highlighted activities, “Knowing Our Own Roots” is, in its essence, a study visit for Thai grantees to learn more about Thailand’s heritage and challenges. The theme varies from year to year but the impacts are obviously similar. In addition to the self-awareness and knowledge gain, grantees are given a chance to practice critical interdisciplinary thinking with an open mind, to network among themselves and with alumni for lifetime friendship and future collaboration, as well as to explore possible opportunities Fulbright Thailand could offer.

Establishing the links across programs helps enhance our grant administration in the way that it has added values to our exchange programs with widened academic opportunities, cross-cultural understanding, resourceful network of professionals from different expertise, and a very strong Fulbright family.

The concept of ‘link’ is not only adopted in administering grant programs but also integrated into the rest of Fulbright Thailand’s functions including office administration, staff development, and outreach. Staffs are always encouraged to take part in grant program activities to form formal and informal networks with alumni and grantees to tighten the Fulbright Family, to have rich resources and new ideas for work, as well as to enhance their cross-cultural skills and understanding of education internationalization, all of which are identified as our core competencies. At the same time, cross-functional assignments and training are promoted to help staffs further develop their knowledge and skills in depth and in breadth.

 

T-Learning

To elaborate further, lintegration encourages “T” thinking and learning pattern. Traditional education is designed as “I”, namely, learning which divides students into solid categories according to their specialized subjects such as sciences, humanities, art, and engineering. Even when students are required to take “General Education Subjects”, they do not relate or may not see the links with specific knowledge and skills acquired from their specializations. Consequently, the “I” frames their mindset and thinking. Traditional education might be applicable in the previous days but not in the present time when complex tasks and problems call for interdisciplinary knowledge and approaches.

Therefore, it is necessary that we promote lintegration for “T” thinking and learning for depth and breadth knowledge based on cross-cutting concerns such as common issues of public concern and issues with global impacts. Understanding, or even acknowledging, these issues, students would be able to get started to find connectedness think critically, and develop cross-cultural learning skills. They will be amazed to find the overall learning much more meaningful from considering the wealth of knowledge and skills horizontally and vertically.

 

Lintegration Key Word – ENGAGE

From Fulbright Thailand’s experiences, lintegration works well with engagement of all stakeholders – senior leaders, staff, grantees, alumni, and networks. The engagement could easily be promoted when stakeholders realize that integration is not too much of a burden, compatible with their styles, and, more importantly, useful for their work and self development.

Bearing in mind that an education institution comprises a diverse group of people with different characters, conditions, and needs, engaging them in cross-program management is quite a challenge. In fact, it could be problematic enough just to have them meet with each other. Boomers (those born in around 1945-1946) prefer to meet in person while Xers (around 1965-1978) and the Millennials (those born after 1979) find traditional meeting a waste of time.

Thanks to the advanced technology, more and more people of all generations are now using faster communication channels like Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, and LINE. These channels prove to be faster and reliable means of getting connected. During the Fulbright Seminar on “Teachers are Key to Quality Education” in July 2013 , we have found that almost all participating high school and university teachers use some kinds of real-time communication technology for pleasure and work. Most of the Thai teachers even use LINE to keep in touch with their students on a regular basis.

Although traditional face-to-face meetings are still useful for significant matters, it can make room for other communication channels such as Skype and teleconference. This would open up engagement opportunities for those who are physically apart by distance and time zones, or extremely occupied, or in not a distant future, those who no longer feel comfortable with frequent traditional meetings.

As mentioned earlier, technology really helps facilitate stakeholders’ engagement but they might not like to be involved if lintegration is not something useful to them. At an individual level, lintegration enhances knowledge sharing among all stakeholders but only with a good knowledge management (KM) system in place to gain positive impacts. The KM could be in various forms – formal written handbooks, e-group, a lunch chat, etc. Through the KM, stakeholders will not only realize benefits of lintegration for the development of their personal knowledge, learning, and skills but they will also feel directly involved through their contribution. Then, they would consider their engagement worth the effort and become proud as one of the active contributors.

 

Get Started

A simple diagram shown earlier could well be a starting point. With the objective to excel in education exchange management, each individual stakeholder could first fill in the blank shapes given in the below diagram. Be reminded that each of the shapes refers to different element contributing to education exchange excellence and could be adjusted upon one’s imagination. Each element also has its specific context to be aware of and to be tended to.

Diagram 4: Tailored-made diagram for education exchange excellence

Once completed, a small group of people can discuss and identify common issues and priorities in order to exert energy on the most essential components. Concerted efforts through mutual understanding need to be made. Results then can be fed back to the overall macro picture for the planned goals and the next steps in a “lintegration” way.

 

Final Call

If one exchange program with one scholar can do a lot more than originally targeted, how about two, three, or more programs? And when they are linked, how great of the impacts they can make?

Lintegration is not easy but can definitely be done within and across institutions. A special element about lintegration is that it does not always require top-down policy. Individual staff members can take initiatives. They have to learn to look at their respective institutions from the big picture in order to see institution-wide link possibilities. Then lintegrate their prioritized tasks from a smaller start to a bigger step, bearing in mind their missions and shared goals with the real focus on learners and learning process for the sake of the ASEAN Region and the world.

Time to lintegrate!

 

References

Paper presented at the 2nd Fulbright Internationalization Forum (FIF) on September 9, 2013 at the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University

The issue on cross-generation understanding for education exchanges is intensively discussed in “Managing M Exchange”, paper presented at the 1st Fulbright Internationalization Forum available at http://www.fulbrightthai.org/knowledge/read.asp?id=669&type=news

Leena Soman, ‘A Conversation with John Shattuck, President and Rector, Central European University (CEU)’ IIENetworker (Fall 2010), 11-12 available at
http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/naylor/IIEB0210/#/10

The meaning of cross culture covers not only differences between nations but also diversity among people of different age, gender, ethnics, etc. across all social units. It is believed that cross-cultural understanding would also bring self-understanding and appreciation of one’s own culture. This belief is in fact the underlining vision and mission of the Fulbright Program.

“Sabai Box” is a terminology created by Fulbright Thailand, referring to a personal comfort zone, Thai easy-going and lighthearted culture. It is intended to convey another way of thinking, making people feel more encouraged to explore the world by simply readjusting their own “Sabai Boxes”. The term appears in various Fulbright Thailand’s presentations.

Jeffrey Kluger, ‘The Power of the Bilingual Brain’, TIME (July 29, 2013), 32-37

William J Fulbright, The Price of Empire (1905) Pantheon Books. New York

Fulbright Thailand’s seminar in collaboration with Teachers College, Columbia University for Thai and American grantees under Education Seminar Program on July 13, 2013